#FirstChapterFriday: Don’t Fall

Tessa

If I hear that bitch giggle one more time, I may punch someone. Not really. Well, not likely. I’ve never actually punched someone. Even if I’ve thought about doing it. A lot. Especially in the last seven hours.

I’ve worked here nearly three years, slinging beers and booze five nights a week, but after being gone all summer, it’s been hard to find my groove again. Provided I ever had it here to begin with. I thought I did. After tonight, I’m struggling to remember how I ever made it through a shift without throwing myself headfirst into a brick wall.

It’s not so much that I find everyone as annoying as I’m finding Nat and her damn high-pitched squeal tonight, it’s more about how extremely inadequate I feel ten seconds after walking through the doors. I’m the only chick with dark brown hair in a sea of human Barbie dolls. I’m also the only one with my original boobs – my very own, much smaller boobs. Inevitably, this seems to directly relate to my tip jar always being slightly on the slimmer side at the end of the night. That, and I don’t do the giggle. The giggle is where it’s at. I know this. The more I think about this, the more I realize, I’ve always knowns this. And it’s not like I look down upon the giggle. I don’t. It’s just that in this world where giggle is master, I am its bitch – its pathetic, incapable bitch. One who finds the sight of hard brick particularly inviting tonight.

“Natalie!”

I automatically look up from running my end of the night reports at the sound of Burt’s voice. He’s the boss. He’s also a lot like Grumpy from the Seven Dwarves. Unless he’s drunk. Then he’s a cross between Dopey and Sleepy. I like drunk Burt best. Grumpy Burt scares me a little. From the look on Natalie’s face, right now, he scares her a lot. I notice she’s no longer giggling either. In fact, her face is stone cold and red hot – contradictory but true – as she ushers the hot dude she’s been letting grope her behind the counter for the last thirty minutes back out to where the customers are actually supposed to be during operating hours. Half an hour after closing, his ass is supposed to be out in the parking lot.

An angry jerk of Burt’s thumb and we all know she’s being summoned to his office. Things are about to get ugly. He won’t fire her. Even Grumpy Burt is incapable of firing anyone. Unless they have a penis. Then he’ll fire away. But Natalie doesn’t have one of those, so she’s safe.

It takes all of five minutes before she comes storming back out of the office. Tears are streaming down her face as she barrels her way through me on her way to her end of the bar.

“Hey!” I nearly eat it on the nasty floor mats and what is left of my fruit tray goes flying, red maraschino cherry syrup spilling everywhere in the process.

Natalie doesn’t care. Nor does anyone else, until she drops a glass by accident and sobs dramatically, shoulders slumping in her state of complete and utter misery.

I’m down on my hands and knees still picking olives out of the holes in the mat when I see both bar-backs and three bouncers rush to her aid. Fucking unbelievable. What I wouldn’t give to own the giggle for just one night.

The giggle is master.

The giggle keeps your ass from picking bits of pickled produce off the floor.

I’ve barely resurfaced with my mangled fruit tray and I find I’m standing face to face with Melissa, the assistant manager. “Can you help Nat finish up tonight? She’s really upset because Burt got on her case for having that guy in here after closing.” She leans in closer to whisper, “Apparently, he’s a freaking cop. Off duty, but still. Burt is livid.”

 “I bet.” I dump the disgusting fruit buffet into the nearest trashcan.

“Yeah.” She nods, her hopeful eyes still waiting for me to confirm my desire to acquiesce to her request. Turning halfway until Natalie lands in my line of vision, I reach up to rub the dull ache in my shoulder. She really slammed into me when she came through. And she didn’t even say sorry. Honestly, I’m not really feeling all that helpful right now.

“Dude, I don’t know. Nat was a total bitch to me all night. She ignored half the customers when she was busy flirting with her cop boyfriend and then accused me of stealing her tabs when I picked up the slack. Not to mention, she about dislocated my shoulder five minutes ago.”

“Tessa, come on. We all know what it’s like to have a shit night. Just go help her out so we can all get out of here.” This time she doesn’t wait for me to agree. Probably because she knows she’d have to wait forever.

I mutter a handful of my go-to obscenities under my breath while I finish cleaning up my own station before I take a deep breath and visually attack the area I’m about to venture into. Nat’s sitting on the beer cooler now, eyes all puffy and her pointy nose twitching as she sniffs loudly every two seconds. That may be even worse than listening to her giggle. Although, judging by the way Tony, the bar-back, and Seth, the new bouncer, are still coddling her, I’m the only one who wants to dry heave at the sound of her snot traveling back and forth inside her sinuses.

“What still needs to be done over here?”

“Ice bin needs cleaning out. Liquor needs putting up, and glassware needs restocking,” Tony answers for her.

“I still need to count out my drawer as well,” Nat adds in a whimper, more to Tony than me. I guess we’re not speaking. Fine by me.

“If you’ve got this, I’m gonna walk Nat out to her car so she can get out of here.” Seth, the new guy, clearly isn’t aware that we all walk out together on weekends.

“Nat can’t leave until we all leave. Bar rule.” Then I take a page from Melissa’s book and avoid eye contact from this point forward to end the argument. I just want to get this done and over with.

It’s after three a.m. when I’m finally getting into my car. I notice my escort left me one row over when he reached his own truck. I don’t blame him. I’m pretty sure my biceps are bigger than his. He was probably safer walking with me than I was with him.

Regardless, I’m on the road and headed home. Home. Sounds almost strange now. It’s the same place I’ve lived since I was twelve years old and first moved in with my great Aunt Edie. It felt like home the second I walked in and knew I was staying. Even after she moved up north three years ago to be closer to her children who insisted she needed more care than I could give her, it felt like home. She still spent the winters here with me, and on the summer days I missed her most, I could call and put her on speaker, just to fill the condo with her voice for a while.

But things are different now. There won’t be any more visits. No more time spent listening to her fill me in on all the newest gossip going around the assisted living complex while I go about doing laundry or cooking or catching up on schoolwork. Aunt Edi is gone. And somehow, home feels gone too.

I exhale slowly, trying to steady all the emotions attempting to take me down again. Meltdowns and driving make for severely inefficient travel conditions. I know, I had about three on the drive back down here. The first time my speed dropped down to twenty-nine miles an hour for a good ten minutes. The second, a semi nearly took me out when I swerved trying to find a tissue (yeah, okay, so I nearly took out the semi, but size wise, come on, who was taking out who here?!). The last one really did me in. It was so bad, I had to pull over on the side of the road and wait it out. Or, let it out, rather. The only reason I ever got a grip again was because my need to pee suddenly became a more pressing issue than my need to cry. Damn liquids turning my body all leaky.

Stupid tears and stupid sobbing are the reason I had to bypass stopping by the condo and instead go straight to work after an eleven-hour drive. I allow my gaze to dip to the right and take in the pile of bags. Unloading everything from the passenger seat alone is going to take at least three trips. And that’s before I even tackle the back…and the trunk. Which will definitely have to wait until sometime tomorrow. Tonight, all I’m thinking about is what it will take to get me from point A to point bed.

 If I don’t hit any red lights, I can make it to the condo in thirteen minutes. With lights, it’ll be seventeen. Yeah. I’m anal like that. I’ve timed it. I’ll need another twenty (maybe thirty given the luggage trips) to get inside, get showered, pour a glass of water and climb into bed. I’ll catch the end of Frasier. I don’t really want to watch it, I just like the background noise when I’m falling asleep. And I need sleep. Almost more than I need that shower. And I reek of booze and stuff I don’t care to contemplate, so if sleep is competing with shower, sleep is rating higher than usual.

I’ve barely got my key out of the ignition and the door open, when I hear Jules.

“Thank God, you’re finally here.”

I was thinking the same thing. I just wasn’t expecting to hear it from her the second I step out of the car.

“Jules? What are you doing out here? Do you know what time it is?”

She reaches for my arm and misses. She’s drunk. Fucking awesome.

“Come ooon. Drea needs you.” Her fingers catch my elbow on the second try and she stumbles off, dragging me along. We don’t get far before I see my best friend and neighbor sitting in a rumpled mess on the ground beside the staircase leading up to the third floor and our respective units. She’s got on her favorite hot pink bejeweled hoodie, so she’s impossible to miss, even in the dark.

“Drea, what are you doing down there?” At three thirty in the morning, I was hardly expecting a welcoming committee, even if I have been gone all summer long.

“She can’t move,” Julie explains dramatically as I crouch down to further investigate.

“You can’t move?”

Drea bites her lip and shakes her head. Even in a drunken stupor with mascara running down one side of her face and smeared lip-gloss reaching down to the dimple in her chin, she’s still beautiful. “I think I broke my leg.”

I fight the urge to roll my eyes. Doesn’t matter what sort of a state she’s in, she’ll notice, and she’ll hold it against me tomorrow. Regardless of how ridiculous she acts; she expects to be taken seriously. Apparently, it’s part of the best friend code. I just take her word for it. That’s part of the code, too.

“Why do you think you broke your leg?” Meanwhile, I can’t even find her legs under the fluffy skirt thing she’s wearing. It looks like part of her old prom dress. Wait a minute. “Are you wearing the gown you wore to prom?”

“Yes! Stupid Scott dared me to. He said there was no way my new boobs would fit.” By new boobs she doesn’t mean fake, just that they came in after graduation. Surprised us all.

“He was right.” I pull the zipper on her hoodie up higher. “Back to the leg.” Which I’ve now found. Strapped into the same heels that nearly killed her on prom night. “Drea,” I grumble disapprovingly, starting to piece things together. Her left ankle is red and slightly swollen. She must have rolled it coming off the last step. Wouldn’t be the first time a pair of shoes nearly sent her to an early grave. Booze, stilettos and Drea just don’t mix.

Placing both hands under her arms, I hoist her to her feet. We’re barely standing when Jules reaches out in an attempt to help, and nearly knocks us all over.

“It’s cool. I’ve got her.” Her face falters slightly and I add, “Thanks, though. Really.”

I line Drea and myself up with the stairs and peer up at the daunting task that lies ahead. I’m definitely off schedule. Cheers’ll be on by the time I get to bed. Because I really need more bar sounds for background noise after all of this.

“Oh, I better get Scott. He can carry Drea upstairs.” Jules makes to rush past me, but I stop her.

“If Scott was willing and able to do that, why was she sitting on the ground when I got here?”

“That fucker,” Drea mutters. “He’s the reason I fell.”

Oh, hell no. “What?”

“He was supposed to catch me.” Her eyes glaze over as she stares off into the night.

“What were you guys doing?”

“Walking down the stairs!”

I hate when drunk people get exasperated with me. Like, really? I’m the problem in this conversation?

“Got it. You were walking. You tripped. He was supposed to catch you, on principle I’m assuming? And he dropped the ball, or rather ballgown. Literally.”

“Exactly!” Her enthusiasm does seem to bring back some clarity. “Then he had the nerve to try and help me up. After I already fell! I told him, ‘Fuck off, buddy. Too little, too late’.”

“Fantastic.” I shake my head and reposition my grip to make sure I won’t drop her as well. “Alright. Let’s get this done and over with. First step. Nice and easy.”

It takes us at least twice as long as it would have if Scott had just carried her ass, but we finally make it to the third floor. At least her door is shut. Most nights when I find Drea out in the parking lot, we make it upstairs to find the door wide open and all of her worldly possessions free for the taking, not to mention the open opportunity for any potential creeper hoping to move up in the world of sex crimes.

“Hang on, I gotta get my keys.” I turn to Jules for backup in holding Drea upright but she’s nowhere to be found. Her condo is on the floor below us. Obviously, I was kidding myself when I thought she was in this mission with me for the long haul.

I’m struggling to balance keeping Drea on her feet and digging around in my purse when the door opens all on its own.

“You need a hand there?” Scott. Ney. Stupid Scott.

“You’re still here?!” I practically throw Drea at him. He catches her. This time.

“Drea took my keys before she started playing dress up.” He bends down enough to reach his arm under her knees and lift her properly. Her head is already nestled into his shoulder, completely unaware of how much she hates him at the moment.

“You don’t sound drunk,” I point out the obvious.

“I’m not.” He turns toward the living room, likely headed for the couch.

“Then why did Drea take your keys?”

“Because Drea was drunk.”

I’m not finding this chat with sober Scott to be any easier than the one I had with drunk Drea. I should really just retreat now and pretend this whole thing never happened.

But I don’t. Because Drea’s my girl and even if Scott loves her, his standards still far short on occasion where her care is concerned.

“You staying here tonight?” Scott mumbles, eyeing the sofa as if he’s wondering about its availability.

“No,” I scoff, slightly more annoyed than necessary. Just because I want to make sure Drea doesn’t land face first in a pillow where she might choke to death on her own vomit at some point during the night, doesn’t mean I intend to babysit her until morning.

He shrugs and proceeds to place her on the wide cushions. I snatch an afghan from the recliner and hand it to him to cover her.

“Any reason she’s not allowed to sleep in her bed tonight?” I ask, leaning on the armrest.

“You mean outside of her tendency to wake up throwing punches when she’s hung over?”

Forgot about that. “Right.”

Even in the midst of being a pretty straightforward jerk about things, I notice Scott still can’t quite get past how much he loves the crazy, punching drunk girl lying on the sofa. A gentle sweep of his finger over her forehead to move the tangled mess of curls from her face. A subtle tuck around her feet to make sure her bare toes don’t get cold. And lastly, a sweet kiss on her cheek and a quiet murmur of I love you, before he shuffles his feet lazily toward the bedroom still trying his best to portray a demeanor fit for a dude whose high maintenance girlfriend never gets the best of him.

Drea giggles. Because she can. Even half asleep and wasted.

“Isn’t he so cute?”

“Who?” I roll my eyes, knowing this time she can’t see them. Guess she’s back to being in love with Scott again.

“Hot New Neighbor Guy.” She stretches her arms out above her head, a doofy smile resting on her lips.

“I wouldn’t know.” And I’m not all that interested in finding out. “Meanwhile, he’s been living here for months. How do you still not know his name? I’m thinking it’s not Hot New Neighbor Guy.”

She attempts to make a psh sound but winds up blowing raspberries instead, spitting all over her own face. “You don’t know. It could be.”

“Yeah. Okay.” I stand. This time, I’m really leaving. “I gotta go. If I don’t meet with my pillow sometime in the next ten minutes, no one is going to be safe around me tomorrow.”

“You’re so traumatic.” She goes to swipe a loose strand of hair from her face but winds up just swishing it back and forth from one cheek to the other.

“It’s dramatic, not traumatic. Being friends with you, that’s traumatic. For me. Seriously, Drea. Classes start back up tomorrow. It’s our final year. Don’t you think it might have made a nice impression to start the semester not hung over for a change?”

“It’s just the first week. Nothing ever happens in the first week.” She turns until the side of her face is in the cushions and she smiles. I can’t help but imagine her younger self sleeping with her teddy mushed against her nose like this because she’s got an oddly toddler-like expression right now.

“Yeah, I know. The first week doesn’t count. That’s the fourth year in a row I’ve heard that argument.” But she can’t hear me. She’s passed the fuck out.

Hot New Neighbor

I wait until I hear the door close and know they’re both safely inside for the night before I go back to bed.  Nearly called the cops two hours ago when the party spilled out into the common area, also known as my front doorstep.  Then I remembered, I’m not old enough to be that asshole yet. So, I went back to bed.

Until I heard shouting, which turned out to be singing.

And I went back to bed.

Until there was cursing and door slamming, which turned out to be sober boyfriend getting irritated with the task of babysitting.

So, I went back to bed.

This last go around, I woke up because I had to take a leak (in hindsight, having a drink of water every time I was up, just because, was not a great idea). Since I was up, I figured checking in with the partiers was the responsible and nosey new neighbor thing to do.

I was just settling in at the peephole, located at a convenient angle to the door across from me as well as the stairs, given the kitty corner lay out of entry ways up on the landing, when I spotted two women struggling to get up that last flight of stairs. I was nearly out the door to help them before I decided that being the weird naked neighbor at three a.m. approaching drunk girls was not the lasting impression I was hoping to make around here.

Given how close they were to reaching the top, there was no point in trying to get dressed in a hurry. Instead, I opted to supervise. From a distance. And out of sight.

Now that I know everyone is safe and the party is definitely over, I have no plans to wake up for anything other than my alarm clock.

Except, my night is obviously not going in that direction.

My face has barely touched my pillow, when I hear someone at the door.

“Goddammit.” I push up and move back to my feet, grumbling the whole way, “Freaking drunk girls. Freaking college kid neighbors.” And fucking Olivia turning my life into this shit.

When I hear what sounds like the lock clicking, I speed up. I turn the corner to the living room, just in time to see her walk in.

Our eyes meet.

Her eyes drop a little lower.

She screams.

Because I’m still naked.

A shitstorm ensues. I’m yanking the first thing I can get my fingers on into position in front of my crotch (the first thing turns out to be a throw pillow from the love seat) meanwhile, she’s shouting everything from four letter words to cries for help and requests for 911 calls as she makes a very calculated move for the umbrella tucked in the corner beside the coat closet and begins swinging it at me with full force.

“Whoa!” I duck just in time. “What are you doing?!” But she just keeps on coming, leaving me no choice but to abandon my efforts to stay covered for an attempt at staying un-clobbered instead.

Dropping the pillow leads to two things in my favor. One, she’s temporarily distracted. Again. And two, I have two free hands with which to grab the umbrella and disarm my crazy attacker chick.

Stumped, the crazy chick glares back and forth between myself and the door, clearly uncertain which to approach.

I help her out. “Get out. Unless you want to stick around while I make that call to the cops you were screaming for a second ago.”

“Are you insane?!”

“Bold words from a crazy person who broke into my apartment and started swinging an umbrella at my head!” Now that I’m not longer under attack, I make the time to walk over to the kitchen table where I left the laundry basket and pull on the nearest pair of sweatpants I can find. I’m almost not surprised when I turn around to find she’s followed me.

“I’m not the one who broke in,” she screeches. “And I’m definitely not the crazy one here!” Though she does seem less convinced of this when she comes to a stop in front of me, taking in the whole room.

“You’ve been here long enough to do laundry? What are you? Some sort of a squatter?”

I close my eyes and count to three. I’d like ten, but three is all I have time for. “Look, I know you girls have been partying really hard tonight, and things get a little confusing after that much fun, but this is my apartment. Not yours.”

She stares at me and I get the odd sensation she’s silently counting as well.

“First of all, I’m not drunk, and while I’m exhausted enough to believe that I may have temporarily lost my mind and wandered into the wrong unit, that still doesn’t explain why my key fit or why this place is filled with all of my shit.” Her pitch rises even higher as she spreads her arms out to her sides, indicating that everything in sight is hers. “My shit. ALL. MY. SHIT. Plus, YOU! Why do I have you? You don’t go with anything in here!” Exasperated, her flailing arms collapse at her sides.

Then, the front door swings open yet again, and drunk girl from before comes stumbling in along with sober boyfriend right behind her.

“We heard yelling,” the guy announces.

“You’re late,” crazy girl spats. “I could be dead right now.”

“Hot New Neighbor wouldn’t kill you,” drunk girl points out, laughing to herself.

Crazy girl’s eyes widen. “This is Hot New Neighbor?”

“Well, that’s not what I’m calling him,” sober boyfriend chimes in. “But yeah, that’s the dude you’ve been subletting your place to.”

“I’m not renting from her,” I point out, feeling the onset of a revelation coming for us all. “The woman I spoke to sounded a lot older. And frankly, saner.”

“What the hell is going on?” crazy girl whines, dragging her feet to the first kitchen chair in reach and sliding her small frame into it. She suddenly seems a lot less crazy and a lot more vulnerable. “Who would rent out my condo?” She buries her face in her hands and I have to fight the urge to reach out and comfort her. Instead, I march into the kitchen and retrieve my lease from the drawer below the coffee maker.

“Edith Dash.”

Her head lifts and her glassy eyes peek out. “What?”

“Edith Dash, that’s who I’m leasing from,” I explain, coming back toward her to hand over the lease so she can see for herself. Only she doesn’t take it. She just starts shaking her head ‘no’ over and over again.

“Not possible,” she whispers.

“Why isn’t it possible?” I ask, growing increasingly frustrated with the way this is dragging out for no apparent reason.

She wipes her face with the back of her hand. “Because Edith Dash died two months ago.”

“What?”

“Edith Dash is…was…my great aunt. I’ve lived in this condo with her for the last decade. It’s been my home from the moment she invited me in, I seriously doubt her dying wish was to steal it out from under me. So, no. It’s not possible that she rented this place to you. And, even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. It’s mine now.”

“This is your condo?” I ask, trying to clarify what has become confusing beyond my four-a.m. brain capacity.

“Yes. My condo.”

I pull up a chair and sit down across from her. “Which your aunt sublet to me, for a year, before she died.”

“Just to be clear,” sober boyfriend interrupts. “No one is going to kill anyone tonight?”

I nod. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we can rule out murder for the time being.”

“Cool. Then I’m going to take drunky here back to the couch.” He scoops her up into his arms and turns to leave without further ado, pulling the door shut with his foot on the way out.

I stare back across the table at the girl who now looks neither drunk nor crazy. Just exhausted. And heartbroken.

“Look,” I start quietly. “It’s late. There are two rooms here, two beds and two of us. Any chance we could just get some sleep tonight and sort all of this out tomorrow?”

Her jaw stiffens, and her lips turn into a thin streak on her otherwise soft face. “You want me to stay the night here with you? A total stranger?”

I can see how that sounds like a stupid idea. So, I extend my hand to her. “Michael.”

She grudgingly lifts her own to meet mine. “Tessa.”

“There you go.” I smile, sort of. “Not strangers anymore.”

Read more HERE

Story time…this one’s for the fellas.

Today, while walking through the mall, some guy loudly called out “How you doin’” as I went by. He was on the phone and it took me a second to even register he was talking to me and by the time I did, I was well past him.

I spent the next several minutes thinking about how he probably thought I was a bitch for not responding with so much as a smile (not actually something I’m obligated to do) and how I was going to leave without having to walk by him again. I ended up going out another exit and walking half around the mall to get back to the parking lot where my truck was parked just to avoid the spot he’d been hanging out.

Not because I was scared. Not because this dude seemed creepy or dangerous in any way…but because nine out of ten times when a strange man attempts to talk to a strange woman and it isn’t received well, he feels entitled to an explanation. He’s not. And today, I wasn’t in the mood.

So, then I’m in the parking lot, alone and just trying to get back in my truck when another guy comes cruising by, watching me with his window down the entire way, giving me ‘the nod’ as he makes the turn in my direction.

I ignored him too, this dude more intentionally, and just got in my truck.

So I guess the moral of the story is this: the next time you feel the need to express your interest in a woman by calling after her or leering or doing anything of the sort, consider what you actually hope to gain from this (seriously, I’d like to know) and what it will cost her. At the very least, she’ll be uncomfortable and annoyed, at most, she’ll be genuinely scared for her safety. Both scenarios are bullshit. Just stop.

The end.

Declutter. On every level.

I live with three dogs and a teenager. Suffice it to say, there’s always STUFF EVERYWHERE. Between dog blanket, chew toys and balls, the dogs have every inch of floor space covered with their shit. All the surfaces above the waist, my kid takes care of. Overnight bag from the last sleep over. Sketch pad and pen. Random crochet project. Half empty glass of juice. You name it, it’s sitting somewhere lost and alone, never to be thought of again.

I move in waves in how I deal with this. For a while, I tune it out and silently hope teenager and dogs alike will magically develop the skill to pick up after themselves. Then, I get a little antsy and start vocalizing said hope, trying to nudge the process along (at least with the teenager). But, when the tide peaks, so does my patience and thus, I go on a rampage of sorts clearing everyone’s shit out of my space.

Finally. For a few days, I feel like I can breathe again.

But, it’s not just the physical items that clutter my space and make me feel like I’m getting buried under it all, suffocating my creativity in the process.

Every morning, as soon as I can, declutter my headspace. And I don’t mean by meditating or doing yoga. I mean I get up and whatever items I’ve had swirling around on my mental ‘to-do’ list since the night before when I got into bed and felt the rush of all things to come in the morning fill my head, get done with that first cup of coffee. Newsletters. Blog posts. Graphics. Edits. Blurb rewrites. Setting up sales. Promotion pricing. You name it, it happens.

Then, with my second cup of coffee, I can go and meditate and enjoy my yoga practice.

And, from there, I find I have a much more productive day all around. Most importantly, my creativity has room to flow freely without feeling crunched in by all the STUFF. Physical or otherwise. In the end, it’s all the same energy resulting in blocks none of us have time for 😉

#FirstChapterFriday: One More Chapter

Chapter One

Karma

I’m late. This is not new to me, the girl my friends and family refer to as being on ‘fuck it’ time regardless of what’s on the agenda. Schedule? What’s that? I work for myself mostly so I don’t have to have one of those. Except on days like today. Because I made a commitment to be here. Last year. I don’t know what I was thinking making plans so far in advance. As it stands, I don’t want to commit to the dinner invite I have for tomorrow night. And it’s from my brother. Because it’s his birthday.

I’ll let him know sometime before five o’clock. Tomorrow.

            Right now I don’t have time to think about that. I don’t have time for anything. Not even coffee. Which is criminal if you ask me. But no one is asking. Except maybe where the hell I am. My phone just went off for the fourth time. I’m not checking it though. I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m late. I can tell time. Even if I can’t keep it.

            Crossing the never-ending parking lot up to the convention center while my arms are overflowing with crap I’ll need once I get inside, I’m barely hanging on to my laptop bag which is desperately hooked to the pinky on my left hand, along with my key chain.

            I scan the ten side by side double glass doors for the set of automatic ones. They’re not there. They don’t exist. And I’m never getting inside.

            “Excuse me,” I shout when I see a guy exit through a door four sets down from me.

            “Me?” He looks scared. He’s definitely hoping I mean someone else. I shouldn’t yell at strangers.

            “Relax buddy, I’m not requesting any body parts. I just need to get inside and I can’t physically grab hold of a handle and pull right now.”          

            He sort of smiles. Relief, that’s what he’s feeling. I check my reflection. I’m getting a bad feeling about things. Yep. The clip holding my hair on top of my head to ensure my curly, poofy volume for the day as my mousse sets is still there. Fantastic. I’m late, and I look like a lunatic.

            Regardless of the very real possibility that I’m a crazy person, the guy holds the door for me, allowing me entry to a building filled with innocent people. I guess he can afford taking a chance on my sanity. He’s leaving.

            As soon as I’m inside, I wish I was out in the parking lot again. This place is packed. Packed and loud. Two things my little introverted self does not care for. But I trudge onward toward the ‘you are here’ map up ahead, trying to zero in on it and not the chaotic mess I’m surrounded by. I suppose I could just search the place for my convention’s banner. I’ve certainly seen it often enough in my inbox. Romance Done Write Con has been emailing me almost daily for the last month, reminding me that I agreed to be on their first panel of the day. A lot of good it did them.

            I scan the map several times, unable to really focus on where I am or where I need to go. My brain is too scrambled with everything else it’s trying to process. Like how my pinkie feels like it’s about to break off. And how that will result in my laptop falling to the ground, possibly leading to its ultimate destruction. Not to mention, the blur of people moving to and fro in a way that makes me feel as though I’m about to be swallowed up by it. Interesting really, turns out feeling claustrophobic doesn’t have anything to do with the size of a place but rather with how much is in it with you.

            I take one last look at the board, find what I think is tower C and room 1107, the highlighted portion of every email I’ve opened recently, and start running. Well, running may be a stretch. But, I’m moving as fast as humanly possible given the circumstances.

Five minutes and a few hundred human obstacles later, a bright red and black banner catches my eye, and I waste no time in squeezing into the first open door I can find.

“And hello to you too,” a loud voice greets me over the speakers as soon as I stumble in, bags and piles of crap banging into the wall and each other, helping me create quite the entrance.

Yay.

First order of business is to make sure I’m still holding on to everything I fell into the conference room with. As soon as I know none of my possessions have spilled onto the floor, I glance up to meet the voice which so eagerly pointed out my tardiness to the entire room.

Funny. He doesn’t look like a romance writer. Neither do any of the other men seated along the panel beside him. Not that I believe in stereotyping, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that your everyday erotica author is usually female. And either twice as pent up as her characters are sexually free, or so wild and unconventional, one has no choice but to assume she’s from another planet, which then explains the purple hair as well as the freaky sexual positions her characters achieve that no human could conjure up.

This guy falls into neither category. He’s a suit and tie guy, except his shirt’s undone where the uptight types would have a tie, and his handsome face is partially obstructed by a full beard too unkempt to be professional but not quite wild enough for mountain man.

“Since you’re already standing, did you have a question for the panel?” He smiles, it’s the kind of smile that would make me blush from head to toe if I wasn’t already crimson red.

Even though I’d be laughing at myself, he seems to be genuinely welcoming me to the party.

“Uh, yeah.” I bounce my left shoulder up and down in hopes the strap digging into my skin will adjust. “This isn’t Romance Done Write, is it?”

He laughs softly. The rest of the room joins him. Now they are all laughing at me. “I’m afraid not. We’re here today to talk about growing local businesses with Eat, Shop, LIVE Local.”

Generating my own whirlwind, I spin on my heel and clamber for the door handle with my elbow, hoping for a more graceful exit than I had entry.

“Don’t feel like you have to make a run for it. Stick around a while. You might find our panel just as interesting.” The guy at the podium is waving me back, his blue eyes piercing me in spite of the distance between us.

“I don’t doubt that talking business is super fun,” I say this like I totally doubt it, “thing is, I have my own panel to be on. And in case my generally frazzled demeanor hasn’t made it clear enough, I’m late.”

“That’s too bad. We would have loved for you to join us.” He’s still smiling. I’m starting to think he’s hitting on me. Which is ludicrous. But then that seems to be the theme this morning.

“Yeah, thanks,” I mumble, pushing my backside into the door, anxious for it to open and swallow me whole. I’ve been at the center of everyone’s attention for far too long now.

Then, it catches my eye and I stop everything. “Oh, hey, maybe there is one more thing you could answer for me?”

“Absolutely.”

“Is that coffee? And if so, where did you get it?”

He peers down at the paper cup in his hand. The very paper cup he was sipping something from a moment ago. “It is coffee. And I picked it up at the coffee shop in the hotel lobby.”

On the opposite side of the parking lot.

“Dammit.”

And, I’m finally out of there. Cursing the banner beside the door, which now quite clearly has Eat, Shop, LIVE Local written on it in a bold black and white font that looks nothing like the swirly shit the Romance people used for theirs, I take off at the fastest speed possible given my baggage, both physical and mental. A luggage trolley would come in so handy right now.

Then, at last, one long-ass hallway later, I arrive.

“Where the hell have you been?” It’s Layne, one of my clients, and most days, my best friend. Today is iffy, given that she’s jumping down my throat when I’m clearly already in distress.

“Oh, you know, taking the scenic route and sampling all of the cons on the way here.” I drop my load on the nearest set of empty chairs. “I got lost. Where the hell else would I have been!?”

“Well, you’re lucky, because you’re not the only one who’s late. The keynote speaker is running behind schedule as well. Flight was delayed. They’re rushing her here straight from the airport.” Layne grins. She likes doing this to me. Freaking me out and then making it all better. She does the same thing to her characters. And in turn her readers. “What is all this shit anyway?”

She’s pointing at the cardboard box, large tote bag, purse and my laptop, all piled on top of each other in a heap now as I stretch and try to regain feeling in my pinkie and shoulder.

“This? Oh, I don’t know. Stuff. Had it lying around. Thought it might be fun to take it everywhere I go for a day.” I scowl. “It’s all the crap you insisted I needed for today.”

As the writer of a bestselling firefighter series, Layne comes in on the freaky alien side of the author spectrum, her bright teal bangs are only reiterating my point. She’s also been to more of these conventions in the last five years than I ever plan to attend over the course of my career as an editor. If it hadn’t been for her insistence, I wouldn’t be at this one now.

“I didn’t mean you needed them first thing at the panels.” She slaps my arm playfully. Like I’m the silly one.  Like it was obvious. “You won’t need most of that until this afternoon.”

“Listen, I didn’t get here last night. It took more than a leisurely stroll through the lobby for me to arrive here this morning. And when I did, I found myself in a parking lot the size of China. If you think I have any plans to go trekking back out there for anything until this day is over, you’ve let your hair dye seep into your brain for too long.”

She drops her head sideways, eyeing me sympathetically. “No coffee yet this morning?”

“None. Not a single, solitary drop,” I say, remembering that I still haven’t fixed my hair and reaching up to release the tousled mess from its rooftop prison. Soft, bouncy curls of chocolate brown land on my shoulders and flow down my back in one fluid motion. Without a mirror handy, I just have to assume that my styling efforts resulted in the intended effect and I now have perfect volume to go with my slightly wild but approachable hair. Although the approachable part may be misleading if I don’t get my hands on some coffee here soon.

“Well, you’re not getting one now either,” she says as if reading my mind, “That’s the speaker for this morning.” She points at the woman with glasses and a hairdo from the eighties who just came rushing through the doors. “We’re about to get started.”

For a woman who looks like a librarian stuck in a time warp, the keynote speaker delivers a speech filled with surprisingly current information regarding the publishing business. She also uses the word fuck a lot more than one might expect.

Then, before I know it, it’s over and the panelist are being invited to come up front. Cue momentary panic, as once more, I make my way across the room with a couple hundred pairs of eyes on me.

The topic is All the Bells and Whistles, which is their cute way of collecting several editors, cover designers and book formatters in one place to bombard us with questions regarding everything an author needs to consider before publishing. From what I know, I’m one of two editors up here today. The other is a woman who up until recently was working for one of the Big Five out in New York, so she’s fairly new to the ins and outs of working with Indies, or, Independently published authors. It’s different. I like it better, but it’s not for everyone.

I interned at a different major publishing house every summer of college. By the time I graduated, I knew I never wanted to go back. Too many limitations for my unruly self to truly thrive. The Indies are where it’s at.

We’ve all had a chance for one go around of questions pertaining to our field of expertise when I notice the door in the back of the room open and a young woman wearing a LIVE Local t-shirt attempting to sneak in.

With one ear on the cover artist answering a question about the benefits of using exclusive images versus stock, I watch as the woman bypasses the chairs, and swiftly moves toward the front of the room, back slightly hunched and on tiptoes, as if it will help her appear less intrusive that way.

I’m still fascinated by this scene, when she zeros in on me, a broad smile spreading across her face as she crouches beside me at the end of the table, her hand moving up to gift me a piping hot coffee cup.

“Jenson said to tell you thanks for stopping by,” she whispers. Then, just as casually as she wandered in here, she leaves again.

And I watch her. Speechless. It’s not until I take a sip from my cup that I realize the rest of the room has gone silent.

The panel host leans over her podium to get a clear shot at me. “Okay, forget the importance of proper punctuation, I want to know how you get yourself a personal barista complete with delivery service.”

I laugh, and for the first time this morning, it’s not because I’m uncomfortable. “Trust me, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I’m not even sure I believe it yet. And I live in a fictional world most of the time where outlandish things like handsome strangers buying the klutzy girl coffee is pretty much standard behavior.  I do know, if I walk out into the parking lot later and find a brand new car with a dating contract stuck in the windshield wiper, I’m making a run for it. That’s not my kinda story. I don’t care how attractive he is.

The remainder of my time sitting up on the panel goes by in a daze while I fight the urge to drift off into some wild daydream about him. Jensen. The name suits him. It doesn’t even matter that I literally know next to nothing about him. He bought me coffee. He had someone track me down to give it to me, which means he was listening to me. He was paying attention. Coffee and listening. Right there, that pretty much already makes him the best guy I’ve ever dated. Not that we’re dating. Although, if I stretch the coffee thing far enough…it’s almost a date.

Nah. Even I’m not that crazy. Or desperate.

“Um, explain.” Layne nods at the now empty coffee cup I’m still clutching in my hand. I just can’t seem to get myself to part with it.

“You know how I got lost? Yeah, well, I accidentally stumbled into another conference.”

“And?” She’s not following how this led to coffee.

“And, the guy at the podium was sipping the great brown nectar of the gods, so I inquired where he got it. When he told me it was from the other side of China, I cursed out loud and left the room. Honestly, I may also have whimpered as the door shut behind me.”

She grabs my arm to stop me just as I’m about to reach out and pick up all of the junk I dragged in here with me today, so I can haul it on to the hall next door where we’re having a friendly meet and greet of sorts according to the itinerary. “Are you saying some random dude from another conference sent you coffee?”

“Yeah. How pathetic must I have looked, huh?” I try to laugh it off. Part of me would still like to believe that it was flirty coffee, not pity coffee.

Layne looks thoughtful. “I’m totally using that. Was he hot?”

This time I laugh for real. Everything is potential writing material with Layne. “Yep.”

Working her way back into best friend status, she’s a pal and helps me carry my stuff next door.

Because we had such a late start this morning, the powers that be decided to make the schedule work by cutting the panel that was set to follow mine, which means we now have twenty minutes to kill before the meet and greet thing. Twenty minutes I would have used to go and track down coffee, but now that I’ve had some already, I have nothing to do with myself. Except mingle. Eh.

“Maybe I should go back and thank him.”

Layne smirks. “That hot, huh?”

I can feel myself grin like an idiot. “You sound like you’re fourteen when you say it like that.” My eyes roll back into my skull as I surrender. “But he totally was.”

“I’ll watch your stuff.” That’s the green light I was looking for.

“Thank you.” Then I run from the room. And, I’m really running this time.

A million and one scenarios pop into my head while I maneuver my way around the people milling about in between the various conventions taking place here today. In several of the scenarios I say something extremely witty and come off looking like a rock star at male-female interactions. This is how I know I spend too much time with my brain stuck in some romance novel. Because I’m not smooth. Not in person anyway. I could probably write out some clever dialogue though and hand it to him. No typos or anything. Why aren’t men more impressed by this?

My thoughts have derailed some by the time I’m standing in front of the Eat. Shop. LIVE Local banner again. The doors are still closed which makes me somewhat hesitant to follow through with what I originally thought was a brilliant plan. Then I decide I’ve already gotten a head start on the humiliation today, no need to fall behind now, and I open the doors.

The room is empty. Not a single business man in sight.

Jensen

Eyeing the big red banner, I can see why she got confused. Well, provided she needs glasses in a really bad way and can’t read, I can kinda see why she got confused. The colors are the same, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

I’m not really sure what I’m doing here. When I first headed down this path, it seemed like a good idea to check in and make sure she got the coffee I sent her. Obviously, Jade told me she got the coffee, but it seemed like the sort of thing I should do personally. Now that I’m standing here searching the crowd for her, a virtual stranger, I’m thinking it may come across as a little stalkerish.

“Are you looking for someone?” A woman with bright teal hair shows up at my side out of nowhere. It’s probably embarrassingly obvious how much I don’t belong to this crowd.

“Just checking out what you all have going on here,” I lie. It’s not normal for me to determine that’s the best course of action. Usually I’m honest to a fault. Even when it makes me look bad. But all of this is out of character for me. Starting with the coffee. No. Starting with singling her out when she came bursting through the doors like a meteor crashing into the world. My world.

“Just checking us out, huh?” She smirks and I notice the stud right below her lip. Suddenly it clicks. The piercings. The hair. I’ve seen her before.

“You’re Layne Larson.”

She laughs. I’m probably the first man to ever recognize her. I’m not exactly her target audience.

“You’re familiar with my work?”

I shake my head, laughing quietly. “Not me. My wife.”

“I see.” Her face lights up. “Is she here? I’d love to meet her.”

I clear my throat. It seems to be seizing up on me. It hasn’t done that in ages. “She, uh, couldn’t make it.”

Ms. Larson pushes her lip out in a faux pout. “Oh, that’s too bad. Well, let me grab you a copy of Fire and Freedom. It doesn’t release until next month. You’ll score major points in the husband department.” She squeezes my arm lightly as she hurries past me.

I should leave. Right now. I don’t know what I was even thinking coming over here. But I don’t want to be rude. It’s not Layne Larson’s fault I’m a complete idiot.

“Alright, who do I make this out to?” She’s back already, pen in hand, the tip hovering over the open book.

“Marlee. M-A-R-L-E-E.”

“Oh, I love that name! That’s it. She’s going to be a character in my next novel.” She chuckles to herself as she finishes signing the book, and I can’t help but think how thrilled Marlee would be to hear that. Only there’s no way I’ll ever be able to tell her.

“Thanks so much. Really.” I do my best to smile back at her, then I turn and haul ass out of there before anyone else shows up and starts talking to me. Before she shows up and starts talking to me.

Read more HERE

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#WIPWednesday: A Willingness to Dance

BECK

“Bennet. Your lawyer’s here.”

            A woman with half a shaved head and long waves of teal pouring out of the other side of her scalp steps out from the huddle. She’s got charcoal black eyeshadow covering her lids to her eyebrows, with lashes, so unnaturally thick and long they should be fake but probably aren’t, framing her piercing blue eyes. From there, things get a little distracting due to the ring hanging from her nose that reminds of the sort they put in cattle, and I can’t even begin to fathom what would possess a grown woman to put on ripped jeans and sneakers only to cover them up with a flowy, flowery summer dress that reaches down to her thighs in the front, but has a long, ridiculous train in the back. Except maybe to help cover the endless array of ink permanently marking her skin.

Meanwhile, I’m not the only one that’s been assessing the view before me.

“That’s not my lawyer.” She makes a face at Dorsey. “Come on, man. I know it’s been a rough day, but you and I both know, my attorney is prettier than that.”

            “I’m sure Les will appreciate you think so.” I clear my throat. “Unfortunately, she’s out of the office for personal reasons and has left all of her clients in my care.”

            The woman steps closer until she can grasp a bar with each hand and slide her face through the middle. When she speaks, it’s still directed at Dorsey, not me. “Do we know this dude? I mean, I may be safer staying in here than walking out with him. What do you think?”

            Dorsey rolls his eyes and I get the feeling he’s dealt with her before. A lot. “The dude’s her brother. He’s not as pretty and he probably won’t waste time blowing smoke up your ass about your,” he pauses to include air quotations here, “art. However, he’s probably just as qualified to be your lawyer, being as he is one. At the same firm.” He huffs dramatically. “Now step back so I can let you out. You’re a pain in my ass and I’m tired of looking at you.”

            She smirks. “Admit it. You miss me when I stay out of trouble for too long.” Then she steps out of the way and makes an over-the-top gesture with both arms for him to proceed, while booming in a deep exaggerated voice, “OPEN SESAME.”

            Dorsey just turns to stare at me. “You have no idea what you’re in for, bro.”

            I wait for the smirk or wink or really any indication of humor, but nothing follows his words of warning, except the click of a lock and the squeak of a door swinging open.

BENNET

            I knew Les wouldn’t be here. Deep down, I knew. She’s getting married this weekend. Still, I can’t deny part of me was counting on her crazy, keep all the balls in the air at the same time, workaholic ass to do what she always does and magically appear even when she has a million other places to be at the same time. It’s entirely bittersweet to see she sent her brother in her place. On the one hand, I’m thrilled she put her own damn happiness first for once in her selfless life. On the other, I’m scared. Les knows me. She’s passionate about supporting me and what I’m about and she can work miracles where most others just shrug and give in. I need a miracle chaser today, and I’m hoping to God, Les sent me one. Even if his surly looking face and boring-ass tie scream of ‘shrug and give in’.

            “So, you and Les are close?” I dabble in small talk as I take my seat across from him in the small visitation room Dorsey dropped us at.

            “Not as close as you two, judging by the size of your file,” he mutters, apparently more concerned with wiping the coffee rings off his side of the table than to bother with manners and eye contact and such.

            Still, I sense a glimmer of hope. “You read me file?”

            He scoffs, eyes finally coming up to meet mine. Though there’s still no sign of manners here. Pretty sure he just wanted to make sure I could see that he finds me laughable. “Yeah. Because I had time to read your novel-length file between the time I was notified you needed representation and showing up here. It was great. I made a cup of tea, curled up under a blanket and really settled in for it.”

            I smirk. Because I appreciate a witty response, even when it’s at my expense. “Explains why you were late getting here.”

            “Excuse me?” He pulls himself into a straighter, more rigid position, which truth be told, I wouldn’t have thought was possible. “I literally dropped what I was doing and came straight here. Even though it’s now officially after hours, on a Friday.”

            “I know,” I sigh, dramatically slouching and sinking as deeply into my seat as possible. “Which is why it’s so inconvenient you weren’t here as soon as I was arrested. When court was still in session and having a bail hearing would have been so much more accessible.” I shake my head at his implied ineptitude. “Now what are you going to do?”

            “Tell you to settle in for the weekend and I’ll see you first thing Monday morning,” he announces getting to his feet.

            Okay. Totally misjudged that one. I thought for sure he had a competitive, perfectionist streak I could trigger with my implications of his failure. Time to get serious.

            “Wait, please.” I sit up straight and fold both hands on the table. “You can’t leave me here for the weekend.”

            “Why? I may not have read your file through, but I skimmed enough to know you spend enough time here to be familiar with things.” He leans over the table to get closer before he whispers, “And I think we both know you’re guilty of the crime, so you kind of deserve to be here.”

            “Wow.” I drop back until my shoulders hit the backrest of my chair. “Are you sure Les left you in charge of me?”

            He rolls his eyes, and though I can tell he’s struggling with the choice, sits back down. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is or why my sister goes out of her way to keep covering your ass and frankly, I don’t care. But you’re right. This matters to her, and she trusted me to take care of things for her while she focuses on herself for once. So,” he pauses to sigh, “Let’s start over. No fluffy small talk or snarky comebacks. Just business.”

            I nod. Whatever I need to do to get out of here tonight, I’m doing. “Business. Good. Let’s start with getting me out of here. What will it take? An ankle monitor? Some paper where I sign my life away in case I don’t show up for my hearing on Monday? What?”

             “That part I was pretty serious about,” he says, frowning. “You have to go before a judge to determine how to move forward, and there’s no way to do that before Monday.”

            I shake my head. “I can’t be here all weekend.”

            “Why? Big date tonight? Oh, don’t tell me, you’re going to my sister’s wedding.” He’s joking, but I can tell part of him is worried it’s true.

            “Because I have a kid. And no one to care for her if I spend the weekend in jail. Which means, social services will get involved and she’ll be placed with strangers. And I really, really don’t want to traumatize my eight-year-old like that.”            

His expression shifts. I’ve hit a nerve.

Copyright © 2021 – by K.S. Thomas

Feminism Killed Chivalry

Facebook statuses are cool and all, but I find the comments tend to be a lot more entertaining. So, that’s where I was when I found this gem one night ~


“Feminism killed chivalry.”

And some douche who replied, “Amen.” right below it.


Initially, I did find the ignorance humorous, and briefly considered leaving a vocabulary lesson in the comments below. But, I don’t tend to engage, and it wasn’t my page…so, not wanting to piss off my friend’s idiot friends out of respect for said friend, I passed on responding.


That was then. Now, I’ve had time to stew in it, and I’ve decided, fuck it – I’m going to say my piece. I’m just going to do it here.


So, let’s start at the top.

Feminism: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Chivalry: an honorable and polite way of behaving, especially toward women
.


Tell me again how feminism killed chivalry. Because I see no correlation between the two. If chivalry is dead for you boys, it’s because you let it die by not being chivalrous. It’s that fucking simple.


But it’s cool. Just blame that shit on women wanting equal rights. It is, after all, the root of all evil.


Meanwhile, let’s explore the more complex concept I believe you were trying to address when you made your ridiculous statement. 

Strong, independent women are emasculating men and no longer appreciate true (super manly) gentlemen.

It sounds less ignorant, but it’s not.


As a romance author, I can tell you without doubt, that today’s woman is starving, STARVING!! for the strong, alpha males you ding dongs think have gone out of style. Don’t believe me? Go google how much money women spent on romance novels last year. Then google current popular trends in the same genre. If you have one handy, ask an author busy churning out novels starring billionaires, badass bikers, fighters, soldiers and rock stars. Business is booming. Because they all have one thing in common. A strong, powerful male lead who’s protective, loyal and honors his responsibilities.


From where I’m sitting, it’s not the women who are causing the problem by asserting themselves, standing up for their own worth and taking charge of their own destinies. It’s the men who refuse to evolve and meet them at their new (higher) level of standards. 


You can’t have a moderately successful career, two roommates at your bachelor pad while having marginally managed to keep a cactus alive and then think you’re going to roll up on a woman who’s busy busting ass and taking names while she works her day job, raises her kids and still finds a way to not look like she doesn’t sleep (which she doesn’t) and has time to work out (which she doesn’t) thinking she’s going to be impressed. She’s not. What the hell are you bringing to the table? Your ability to open a damn door? Thanks. I got that.


Chivalry is a wonderful thing. But it’s so much bigger than picking up the tab or holding a door.


Feminism.
The belief that men and women should have equal rights.
Such an important word and yet, it’s so often completely misunderstood. Turned ugly.


You know what’s ugly?
That in 2016, I can sit in the audience at a comedy show and listen to a comic make jokes about his woman needing a beating and hear the loud roar of male laughter all around me.


That the other night, I caught part of a movie in which a woman was duped into having sex with a man she didn’t know. A stranger. When she believed she was safely in bed with her husband. And again, it was intended to be funny.


It’s not. It’s rape. 


It’s 2021 and we live in a society where we still can’t tell the difference between a joke and horrific crimes against women.


So, no. Feminism hasn’t killed chivalry. Hell, it’s barely put a dent in the evil shit it’s meant to snuff out.
I suppose you’re wondering right about now what any of this has to do with books and writing.

Nothing.

Except, I’m an author. And a feminist. And every single fierce, fiery female character I write falls for a hero who for damn sure is doing his part to keep chivalry alive and kicking. She wouldn’t waste her time on him if he wasn’t. 
And neither would I.

#FirstChapterFriday: A Cinderella Twist

CHAPTER ONE

GREER

“I’m borrowing your half and half!” I call out as I burst into the apartment across the hall from mine and make a beeline for the fridge. I moved past the knocking and asking phase about three weeks after Chase and Abbas moved in. And that was seven years ago.

“I don’t care if you keep it, as long as you stop shouting,” a furious hiss returns just as I swing the refrigerator door back into place.

My back is to the living room, and whatever angry demon I accidentally summoned here on my quest for creamer this morning. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, hands moving up in surrender, the right gripping the carton of half and half tight. Just in case I need to use it as a weapon at some point.

“What are you doing?” the demon’s hiss sounds more human now, and less angry.

“Trying to save my soul and still have my morning coffee,” I answer, slowly venturing a look over my shoulder. “Or are you a burglar? Is that why I can’t make noise? Are you worried my being loud will wake someone and get you caught? Because if you are, I should tell you, you’re wasting your time in this apartment. 6B two flights up has much better shit and the two dudes who live there are already at work this time of morning. Even on a Sunday.” I turn all the way around to ease the kink starting in my neck from staring at him over my shoulder. “Also, a bomb could go off here on a weekend morning, no one in this apartment would wake up. It’s why I don’t waste time at the door with formalities. And I only even announced my intentions to borrow half and half for principal sake. In case someone asks down the road.” I ramble when I’m nervous. And my judgement sucks before coffee. I can see where the combination has potential here to get me killed to shut me up or set me free just to make me go away.

Meanwhile, the only response I get from my rant is a frown and a frazzled but clearly frustrated, “What?”

I lower my hands, doing away with all signs of surrender. Now that I’m looking at him, he doesn’t seem so demon-like. Nor does he appear to be mid-thieving this place. Given he’s wearing nothing but a towel, he’s not exactly dressed for it. Also, he’s wearing nothing but a towel. It’s worth the repeat. It’s also worth mentioning that between the endless muscles and flawless skin, no amount of coffee is going to help me focus today after the sight of him. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“I should be asking you that,” he points out, tension returning to his voice. It’s deep and gravelly, and definitely lent itself well to the demon theory, though, admittedly sounds sexier now that it’s paired with a half-naked hot guy with wet, slicked back, blond hair long enough to reach the nape of his neck, the perfect amount of stubble to qualify as rugged (or maybe it’s just the strong jawline and full lips that make the lack of shaving work so well) and piercing blue eyes that make you miss the ocean just looking at them. “You’re the one busting in on me, not the other way around.”

“Yeah,” I concede to this obvious truth, “but I know for a fact you don’t live here, so I’m not so sure you’re really more entitled to have your question answered than I am.”

He sighs and with the exhale his defenses fall away. “Greer?”

Kind of veering back toward my demon theory now. “How do you know my name?”

“Because I told him our neighbors Talks-a-lot-Greer and Steals-your-food-deliveries-Mallory would probably pass through our kitchen sooner rather than later,” Chase answers, scratching the back of his head as he does his half-awake shuffle out of the bedroom and into the main living area.

“Actually, you called her Talks-a-lot-of-crazy-Greer,” the dude corrects. Apparently, not a demon after all. Just a stickler for details with a good memory and solid observation skills.

“I mean, that’s hurtful,” I point out, eyes wide, “in a painfully honest sort of way.”

“Yeah, I’m not awake enough yet to pretend to care about your fake hurt feelings, Greer,” Chase mutters, coming to a stop at the center of the living room and rubbing his chin thoughtfully. I notice his eyes aren’t so much directed at me while he’s talking as they are at my hands. “Can I assume based on my creamer in your hand that you have coffee made already at your place?”

“You should assume I have coffee made period.” Though, I forgot for a moment there. “Things get tricky when you assume that I will share.” I take a poignant step backwards toward the door. “With you.”

“You’re seriously going to take the man’s half and half and not give him coffee?” The other dude. The half-naked dude. The not-a-demon dude. The apparently-not-robbing-the place, dude. The –

“I need a name,” I announce loudly, interrupting my own train of inner crazy and startling them both.

“Can you please stop with the shouting?!” The angry hissing returns, but I don’t have time to respond beyond shooting him a dirty look. I’m far more interested in what Chase has to say. He’s the one I’m counting on for answers here.

            Only Chase looks more clueless than he did two days ago when I woke him up at four a.m. to ask him if the box of Cocoa Krispies I found in his pantry was still good. It wasn’t. Cereal was stale as hell. “A name for what?”

            “A name for the half-naked man in your apartment who’s been hassling me since I strolled in here to grab my half and half,” I state what I deem to be quite obvious.

            “I’m sorry, your half and half?” The other dude. Again. With the stickling and observing.

            “Possession is nine-tenths of the law, buddy,” I quip, darting my eyes briefly in his direction before I zero in on Chase again.

            He’s grinning now. “Oh, right. For a second there, I forgot you two haven’t met.” He shrugs, still clearly amused by something. “Just, the way you two are going at it, kind of felt like you already knew each other.” He chuckles and starts walking again, making our little triangle standoff smaller with each step he takes. “Greer, this is Lachlan. My brother. Lachlan, you obviously already know, but this is Greer, my talks-a-lot-of-crazy, neighbor.” He clasps his hands together and nods, giving me a satisfied smirk. “Feel better now?”

            “Yes.” No. I don’t. That answered nothing. In fact, I now have more questions than I did before. But, repeatedly being referred to as the girl who talks a lot of crazy is curbing my enthusiasm for pursuing my curiosities. At least while Lachlan is present. Lachlan. He looks like a Lachlan. He does not look like he’s Chase’s brother. Or distant cousin. Or shares any DNA with him, period.

            “Feel appeased enough to share your coffee?” Lachlan asks. His tone is still awfully stern for someone asking me for my morning brew.

            “Not with you,” I snip. “Also, what is your noise sensitivity issue? Am I going to be told to shush every time I come over? Because I’m not going to be fond of that and it will absolutely cut into my willingness to share coffee with anyone residing in this unit.”

            “Is it going to cut into your willingness to help yourself to things from my fridge?” Chase asks, still smirking.

            I scoff, too appalled to form words.

            Then, the silence I leave in my state of mock shock is filled by yet another voice. A much, much smaller one. And it utters a word I haven’t heard spoken inside this apartment since Abbas dated Weird Kayla.

            “Daddy?”

            Yeah. That’s what made her weird.

            Lachlan’s expression changes in an instant when he responds. “Coming.” Then he glares at me and adds, “I don’t have a noise sensitivity issue. I did have a sleeping child,” before rushing past Chase toward the hall leading to the other two bedrooms.

            “What. Is. Happening?” I squeal whisper at Chase as soon as Lachlan is out of sight. “You have a brother? And you’re an uncle? Do I even know you?”

            “Calm down.” Even as he’s saying it, he’s moving again, hands reaching for my hips and turning me around to usher me from the apartment. “Coffee first. Talking second.”

            Seems like the responsible course of action here. So, I nod and let him lead me across the hall and into my own place. As soon as we’re inside, I yell, “Mal! Chase has a smokin’ hot secret brother who happens to be someone’s baby daddy and he’s about to tell us all about him.”

            Mallory, my roommate, and more specifically, best friend of the last eight years, opens the bathroom door and comes wandering out, hair in a towel turban-style and wearing only a t-shirt and underwear thus far. Normal attire around here in the mornings, and unlike my run-in with nearly naked Lachlan, not all that exciting to anyone, least of all Chase.  “Chase has no siblings. I’ve heard his dad’s ‘my one lucky swimmer’ story often enough to be certain of this.” We’ve all heard it. Apparently, there was a baseball injury involving his groin area during college. Allegedly, there were no survivors. But then there was that one lucky swimmer. And here we are. Blessed with Chase and his dependable grocery shopping skills.

            “Correct,” Chase confirms, gesturing for me to do the thing and pour the coffee. “I am my father’s only child.”

            “Ah…but not your mother’s,” I conclude dramatically like it’s a game of Clue and I’m about to call out the killer for committing murder in the library with the candelabra.

            “Not my mother’s.” He welcomes the full cup I hand him, cream and honey already stirred in the way he likes. “My mother, unlike my father, had two children. Lachlan with her first husband,” he explains, pausing to have a sip, “and then, three years later, me. With my dad.”

            “I mean, you didn’t need to include that your dad is your dad,” Mallory points out dryly, fixing herself a mug of coffee as well. Not that it requires much fixing. She drinks it black. Like a psychopath. “But you could include why you’ve never mentioned this mysterious brother in all the years we’ve known you.”

            “And why he’s suddenly here now,” I add.

            “Um.” Chase looks like he’s contemplating our questions. They weren’t really all that complicated though. “I guess I don’t really talk about him much.” He shrugs, blowing it off, like it’s normal to forget to mention your siblings for seven years. “He went to live with his dad after he turned eighteen. That was kind of the deal my mom made with him. Lachlan got to grow up with us, but then he had to go live with his dad when he was of age.”

            I frown. If this was a game of Clue, I’d be back at square one. “What kind of custody arrangement covers adulthood?”

            “Oh.” Chase waves his hand like I’ve concluded something crazy. Again. “It wasn’t an official custody thing. He wanted him to move back to learn the family business. It’s a generational thing. They keep passing it down. I guess it’s a pretty big deal.” He rolls his eyes, like he has his doubts about this. “Anyway, that’s what happened. Lachlan turned eighteen. Moved to Linden. And he hasn’t been back much since.” He slides into a stool at the breakfast bar and starts to peruse the box of donuts we stole from his kitchen yesterday.

            “I’m sorry. Where’s Linden?” I ask, wondering if it would be too outrageous to tell him not to eat the chocolate covered chocolate one because I want it.

            “Europe. It’s a little island in the Scandinavian section.” He chooses a jelly filled and I internalize my sigh of relief. “It’s cold as shit there, but really pretty.”

            Mallory reaches past him into the box to retrieve the last Boston crème. “The nonchalant way you’re telling this very non-nonchalant story is super suspicious, by the way.”

            “Only because you hang around crazy-pants here too much,” he says, mouth full of donut and spitting powdered sugar. “It’s really as basic as it sounds. My mother fell in love with a European guy while doing the hike across Europe after graduation thing. They were married for like two seconds, realized it was crazy because she was way young and he was way older and they barely knew each other, but you know, knew each other just well enough to make a baby. Got divorced. She came home to the states. Had Lachlan. Met my dad. Had me. End of story.”

            “Until Lachlan up and disappears on his eighteenth birthday,” I throw in with dramatic flair. I’m really feeling the clue vibes this morning.

            “He didn’t disappear,” Chase argues. “Just because you didn’t know where he was, or that he existed, doesn’t mean I haven’t been in touch with him this whole time. Or that Abbas hasn’t known him all along.”

            “But you said he hasn’t been back much,” Mallory points out, clearly still as skeptical as I am.

            “He hasn’t. Work keeps him really busy.” Chase shrugs. “But my work doesn’t. And I get holidays off, plus long summer breaks. So, I go to him.”

            “You mean, your fancy European ski vacations are to visit your brother?”

            He laughs. “Yeah. I’m a teacher. You really think I could afford to take those if I wasn’t skipping the cost of hotels and car rentals?”

            “Hm.” Mallory looks like she’s ready to accept this story at face value. “I have wondered about that. But I didn’t want to be an ass and ask.”

            “Right. Because not wanting to be an ass is the sort of thing you two worry about constantly.” He nods, his brows climbing his forehead. “It shows. All the time.”

            Mallory doesn’t use words to respond. Instead, she lets her finger do the talking.

            “But for real,” I bring the conversation back around to its origin. “Lachlan is your brother. By blood.”

            “You could be a little less disbelieving of the fact that I’m related to a man who looks like a Viking God of some sort.”

            Chase does look woefully puny and pasty compared to his older brother. But I don’t point either of those things out. “I’m just saying. You have brown hair and brown eyes. He’s blond and blue-eyed. You don’t exactly scream twins.” I turn away toward the coffee maker and refill my cup before I go on, “Unless we’re talking that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. Then it screams twins. Loudly.”

            “Wow.”

            “I know. That’s what this is for me too. Just one ‘wow’ moment after the next.” I take a sip. “Now let’s move on to the kid part.”

LACHLAN

            “Sorry, did we wake you?” I leave out the ‘again’ when I notice Abbas still has his eyes scrunched closed and is opting to blindly stumble down the hall toward the bathroom Monroe and I only just vacated.

            “Greer,” he grumbles his one-word response.

            “Right.” Even if I’d like to blame her, it’s probably not entirely her fault she woke the entire household on her mission to steal half and half this morning. If I hadn’t engaged, she would have been in and out of here and none would have been the wiser. Until they made coffee. I don’t know what Greer’s return policy is with the items she borrows.

            I watch as Abbas passes us in his zombie-like state before my eyes drop to the small human hugging my left leg. She’s not much more awake than he is. Not that I’m surprised. After a long and unexpected day of traveling, we didn’t arrive here until well after midnight. I’d hoped Monroe would sleep through most of our trip, but I underestimated how much she’d pick up on my anxiety. Instead of resting, she was antsy and restless most of the journey, leading to a meltdown fully worthy of the looming terrible twos before she finally crashed an hour after we got to my brother’s place.

            “How about some breakfast?” I ask, bending down to scoop her up. “Maybe a banana?”

            “Boohs-berries,” she counters, looking especially grumpy this morning.

            “I’ll see if we have blueberries,” I promise, making a mental note to check Greer’s fridge if I don’t find any here. It’s a leave no stone unturned kind of morning. Kind of year, if I’m being honest.

            “Where’s Chase?” Abbas mutters from behind me. I’m still mid-search of their refrigerator when I turn around to face him.

“Went across the hall for coffee.”

Abbas grunts in response, but he’s slowly starting to look more awake as he meanders through the kitchen and keeps going for the front door.

“Oh, hey,” I call out as his hand reaches for the handle, “think you could see if they have any blue berries while you’re over there?”

Abbas stops trying to leave and instead retraces his steps back into the kitchen, making a sharp left at the counters and passing the center island to meet me at the fridge. “Chase hides the more expensive items.”

He grins, opening the deli drawer and pulling out several packets of cheese and lunch meat before he retrieves a solid yellow container I assumed contained butter. “Here. He just picked these up at the farmer’s market yesterday. Washed and everything.”

“Thank you. You’re a lifesaver.” I take the Tupperware and pop off the lid before I hold it out to Monroe who greedily goes for the berries with both hands, picking up one with each thumb and pointer finger. Normally, I’d set her down to eat, but this place isn’t exactly toddler friendly. At all. “And not just with the berries.” I showed up here with zero warning, at one in the morning with a screaming child. Sure, Chase is my brother, but Abbas didn’t have to let us stay.

“No worries, bro. You’re family, right?” He starts for the door again. “But just so I can mentally prepare…how long do you plan on staying? Like, do we need to babyproof this place?”

I laugh. “Absolutely not. We’re just passing through. Promise.” If all goes as planned, I’ll be back on a plane and headed home by Friday. And Monroe, she’ll be home too. Her real home. With her real father.

Want more than just one chapter? Find it here – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B091D9MG6N/

#WIPWednesday: Not Another Love Song

“I believe you said there would be a speech? Some groveling with the possibility of bribing?”

            I clear my throat. “Right.” I set my plate down on the small table beside the hammock and dust the crumbs off my hands. “Here’s the thing.” Then I draw a blank.

            “There’s a thing?” he prompts me to continue.

            “The thing is,” I stall trying to jog my own memory but all I seem to be able to think about is how I never noticed the tattoo on his chest only visible now that the second and third button of his shirt are undone.

            His brow crinkles, and he chuckles. “What are you staring at?”

            “Um.” My eyes draw up to meet his too late. “Sorry.” I point at his chest. “You have a tattoo I didn’t know about and I’m helplessly nosy,” I admit. “I don’t think I can move on until I know what it is.”

            He tugs down the collar of his shirt to reveal the ink in its entirety. “It’s Ari. But as a fairy poking her head out of a tulip.” He tucks his chin to look down at it. “She was five when I had it done. She’d been telling everyone she was a fairy since she was two and tulips were her favorite.”

            I smile. “She does look like a fairy.”

            He moves his shirt back into place. “She checked for growing wings until she was nine. At that point she accepted she was a wingless fairy.” He sets his fork down in his nearly empty dish and puts both on the table beside my plate. “She hardly talks about it now, but it’s been part of her identity for as long as I can remember. She’s made fairies as real to me as she is.”

            “You didn’t believe in fairies before?” I ask, pulling my legs up into the hammock and letting the momentum sway me back and forth.

            He shrugs. “I kind of have a policy to never not believe in anything.”

            “Anything is possible,” I muse. “That’s always been my approach to things too. Who am I to say what is and isn’t real?”

            “Exactly.”

            “Santa Claus?” I ask.

            “As real as the Easter Bunny.”

            “I don’t think I’ve ever been more on the same page with another person.” I say it like I’m joking, but I can’t deny the words feel heavy with more truth than I was expecting.

            “So,” he starts again, his eyes drifting sideways, the usual amusement and curiosity dancing in them. “You were saying before you got distracted staring down the front of my shirt.”

            I’d have preferred he didn’t put it like that, but I certainly can’t argue that it’s what happened. Which leaves me no choice but to get back to my original point. “I’m a little addicted to your perspective right now,” I get right to the heart of it. “You have a way of untangling my own thoughts for me and playing them back to me so I can hear what I’m actually saying before I know what I’m saying and I thought I might save us both some time by just including you in the songwriting session instead of writing the whole thing without you, playing it for you, having you tell me what I meant to be singing about it and then making you rewrite it with me.” I swing my feet over the side again, letting them dangle for the moment, while I stare past them at the ground. “I could get on my knees for the groveling if that’s your thing. Or, we can skip straight to bribery where I can offer first mention in the credits, your choice of commission percentage and of course, I’d want you to record it with me.” I think about it for another moment. “Oh, and I can publicly promote the lodge for you. Which I was going to do anyway, but you didn’t know that, so I figure I’d throw it in as a bargaining chip.”

            When I finally stop talking, I look up to find him watching me. No smile or smirk. Just watching.

            “You don’t need me to untangle your thoughts, Sky, but I get that I give you space right now to have thoughts you’re not used to having, thoughts you’re used to hearing aren’t worth having, so yes,” he nods slowly, “I’ll play with you tonight. No bribery or groveling required.” Finally, his mouth quirks at the corners again. “But I did appreciate the offer.”

Copyright © 2021 – by K.S. Thomas

Shiny Project Syndrome

I swear I have some sort of workaholic ADHD. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of being a one-woman show, but somehow it never seems to matter what I sit down to do at the computer, I wind up derailed, doing three or four other things I never planned to tackle but thought of while I was sitting here, doing something else – something actually on my to-do list.

It’s something I’m working on being more conscious of. I don’t always catch it, but very often now, I realize I’m a third into some random project I just had the stroke of genius to pursue, stop myself, pull out my ‘work’ journal, and add it to next week’s to-dos.

It’s not like I don’t get done what I initially intended to. It’s more like I miss my window of opportunity to end the work day, shut down the computer and go do something else. Something fun. Something that feels more like living and less like pushing onward.

Can anyone else relate? How are you handling it?

What’s your WILD?

I never used to think of myself as wild… I was shy and quiet. The responsible one.

But, I was also an outsider. An introvert. Different.


Always different.

So much so, that even as a child I couldn’t be swayed to do things for the sake of fitting in, because fitting in was never going to happen for me.

And embracing that truth, celebrating it beyond just accepting it, that is my wildness.

My wild is weird and quiet and free. It’s bold and confident and brave.

My wild dances on in pages and paints and song, even as I sit in silence.

It can’t be tamed.

It can’t be broken.

Not today. Not by anyone. Not ever.

What about you guys? #whatsyourwild?